Letrozole: a pharmacoeconomic review of its use in postmenopausal women with breast cancer

Christopher Dunn, Susan J Keam
PharmacoEconomics 2006, 24 (5): 495-517
Letrozole (Femara), an aromatase inhibitor that blocks estrogen synthesis by inhibiting the final step of the estrogen biosynthetic pathway, is approved for use in a wide range of breast cancer settings. Randomised clinical trials in postmenopausal women with hormone-responsive early-stage breast cancer have demonstrated that, as adjuvant therapy, letrozole has greater efficacy than tamoxifen. It is also more effective than placebo as extended adjuvant therapy after completion of tamoxifen therapy in these patients. In women with hormone-responsive advanced breast cancer, letrozole is superior to tamoxifen in prolonging the time to disease progression and time to treatment failure in a first-line setting, and is at least as effective as anastrozole and more effective than megestrol for some endpoints (in one of two trials) in a second-line setting. Letrozole is generally well tolerated, and in a health-related quality-of-life analysis from a large clinical trial, patient well-being with letrozole as extended adjuvant therapy did not differ from that with placebo. Modelled analyses from the UK and the US suggest that, in postmenopausal women with hormone-receptor-positive early-stage breast cancer, letrozole is likely to be a cost-effective alternative to tamoxifen as adjuvant therapy; moreover, using letrozole as extended adjuvant therapy after tamoxifen, rather than no further treatment, is also a cost-effective treatment strategy. Sensitivity analyses have shown these results to be robust. In terms of direct healthcare costs, pharmacoeconomic models suggest that letrozole is a cost-effective alternative to tamoxifen as first-line therapy in postmenopausal women with hormone-responsive advanced breast cancer from the perspectives of the UK NHS, the Canadian and Italian public healthcare systems and the Japanese national health insurance system. Incremental costs per QALY or progression-free year gained over tamoxifen were well within the recommended limits for acceptability of new agents that are more effective and more expensive than existing therapies in the UK, Japan and Canada. Modelled analyses from the UK and Canada have also suggested that letrozole is cost effective as second-line therapy for advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women who have disease progression following anti-estrogen therapy. In conclusion, letrozole is an effective and well tolerated treatment for postmenopausal women with early-stage or advanced hormone-responsive breast cancer. Pharmacoeconomic analyses from UK and North American perspectives support the use of letrozole in hormone-responsive early-stage breast cancer in both the adjuvant and extended adjuvant settings. In addition, other modelled analyses conducted in a variety of healthcare systems across different countries consistently suggest that letrozole is cost effective in advanced treatment settings.

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